How to do a breast self-examination

October 13, 2022
Lizzie Hayes

Examining your breasts can sometimes seem like a daunting task. How will you know if you’re doing it right? What if you find something worrying? In this piece, we’ll take you through the simple, easy steps involved in breast self-examination. We’ll explain why it’s 

important to check your breasts regularly, what to look out for, and what to do if you notice something unusual. 

Why should I check my breasts? 

It’s a good idea to examine your breasts regularly because it helps you get to know them. If you’re familiar with how your breasts normally look and feel, it’s easier to spot changes. That way you’ll notice if your breasts seem different, and you can raise it with your GP. Catching abnormalities in your breasts early means you can identify and treat breast-related illnesses more quickly and effectively

What should I expect?

Every woman’s breasts are different – different sizes, different shapes and different consistencies or textures. One of your breasts may be a different size or shape to the other. 

These characteristics can also shift at certain points during your menstrual cycle. Breasts can become tender, for example, or feel lumpier than usual (especially near the underarm) when you’re on you period. After the menopause, breasts tend to be softer, less firm and less lumpy. 

How do I examine my breasts? 

It’s recommended that you check your breasts around once a month, ideally on the same day, shortly after you’ve finished your period. Find somewhere private where you won’t be disturbed, like your bedroom or bathroom, and follow these simple instructions to complete your breast self-examination

Step 1: Familiarise yourself with how your breasts look. Stand in front of a mirror and see how they usually look with your hands by your sides, and with your hands up in the air.

Step 2: Feel your breasts with your hand to check for anything unusual. Move your hand around your breast in a circular motion, and then press under and around your armpit before feeling around the nipple and pressing the edges to check the tissue behind it. Repeat the same series of actions for your other breast. When you’re making these motions with your hand, ensure that you feel all the way up to your collarbone and all the way underneath the breast where it meets the skin over your ribs. 

Some people find it easier to check their breasts in the shower or bath, where you can use soapy water to make the motions smoother and easier. 

What should I be looking out for?

There are a number of changes you can usefully observe and possibly raise with your GP. Some are more immediately obvious or noticeable than others – here are some questions to ask yourself as you check your breasts: 

  • Has my breast changed in size or shape?
  • Does the skin on my breast look different at all? Do I have a rash or redness; dimpling or puckering?
  • Has the consistency or texture of my breast changed, or can I feel swelling, bumps or lumps that weren’t there last time I checked? 
  • Has the position of my nipples changed at all – are they pointing or being pulled in a different direction?
  • Is there fluid or discharge coming from either of my nipples?
  • Is there a rash on my nipples – redness, scaly or itchy skin or perhaps irritation that looks like eczema?
  • Have I noticed pain in one of my breasts, and is it a new pain that doesn’t go away?

(It’s useful to know that pain can be but is very rarely a symptom of breast cancer). 

What do I do if I notice something unusual?

Don’t panic if you notice one of the changes on the list above, or another abnormality that you’re concerned about. Do contact your GP without delay, though, and explain what you’ve noticed about your breasts. It’s important to rule out breast cancer, and in the event that cancer is detected, treatment should be planned as quickly as possible. 

Will the National Health Service (NHS) check in with me about breast examination?

The NHS uses breast screening or ‘mammograms’ to check for abnormalities that might be too small to see or feel. Women between the ages of 50 and 71 are invited to routine screenings with the NHS every three years, so if you’re registered as female and you fall into that age group, you should receive letters suggesting you schedule a screening. If you're worried about something, reach out to your Fertifa Care Advisor through the app.